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Cantonese: An Important Dialect
So, you’re ready to take the plunge into the wonderful yet sometimes confusing world of Cantonese Chinese. Cantonese is a dialect which co-exists in China alongside Mandarin, both of which are being used by vast proportions of the population in both casual conversation and business transactions. Indeed, the only language to threaten overtaking Cantonese is English, due to its growing influence upon the Eastern economy. Learning Cantonese can be a fruitful and challenging experience for curious tourists and business persons alike. Try out these simple Cantonese Chinese phrases and impress you friends.
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The Question Of Intonation
Before you get started, it’s very important that you are aware of the famous ‘intonation’ component of the Chinese language. Whereas English vowels all have their single respective sounds, Chinese vowels are pronounced differently depending upon their intonation. All learners of Cantonese will grapple with these tones at some point as there are over nine to be learned, all of which sound very similar indeed. For now, let’s not get too hung up on tones, as most of the following phrases will be understood by locals even if you happen to get the tone wrong. For ease of understanding, the phrases have been provided in pin-yin, the phonetic version of Chinese manuscripts.
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Good morning! Jousahn
Good Night! Joutau
Hi, how are you? Nehih ho ma?
I’m fine, thanks! Geih ho
Do you speak English? Nehih sik m sik gong yingman a?
Goodbye! Joigin (or simply baai-baai)
These phrases are the veritable bread and butter of speaking Cantonese, and will prove very useful whenever you have to introduce yourself in a certain situation. Meeting some Cantonese clients for a business meeting? Why not greet them in Cantonese? Such gestures can truly break the ice in an important meeting and show that you are willing to absorb and appreciate their culture.
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Let’s move onto some much more personal forms of address – the kind you can use after the ice has been broken by your skilful manipulation of the previous phrases. These Cantonese Chinese phrases should be reserved for friends and close acquaintances to avoid any accidental offence.
I love you! Ngoi oh neih
You have pretty eyes! Lei dou an hou len
Ney ho lang! You’re pretty/good-looking
How old are you? Nei gei seoi aa?
I feel sick! Ngo m syu fuk
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Finally, although learning Cantonese in the great, open landscapes and bustling cities of China can be exciting, it can also sometimes be a little dangerous. It’s always important to carry around with you a handful of phrases which will prove useful in an emergency. Of course, most Chinese citizens have at least a very basic proficiency of English in heavily populated areas, but it’s still worth taking the precaution of learning these phrases.
Help! Gau mehng a!
Stop! Tihng dai!
Call the police! Bou ging!
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Armed with at least a few of these phrases, your experience of Chinese culture will be greatly enhanced. China can be an amazing and awe-inspiring place to travel, and those who come to the West are always gracious, friendly and approachable. Any combination of Cantonese and Mandarin is sure to lead to a far more fruitful cultural experience. Have fun learning Cantonese - and good luck!